by Justice William W. Bedsworth
While the number is still uncertain because census reports are still being processed through Hugo Chavez’s voting machines, somewhere around 331 million people—give or take a couple dozen at any given moment either coming over the wall or fleeing our politics to move to Canada—live in this country. That’s about 150 million more than in 1960, the first time my mom was a census taker. And as near as I can figure, every dang one of that additional 150 million is crazy as a June bug.
Now I will admit I’m probably not the right guy to be passing judgment on mental health questions. It’s been suggested more than once that I’m pretty much going through life a few degrees off of true north, myself.
But even I have flashes of lucidity, and during those moments I’m astonished by the inspired lunacy the other members of my species are capable of. I mean, there are some activities that deviate so dramatically from any rational norm that even those of us who are marginally deranged ourselves have to sit up and take notice.
Stuffing pigeons in your pants strikes me as such an activity.
And, according to the Associated Press, a Baltimore man was arrested for using this method of stealing seventy homing pigeons. “Police say about a third of them were discovered, alive, inside his pants.”
Inside his pants! The man had twenty-six live pigeons stuffed inside his pants.1
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the major leagues of weird. You can have Rasputin, George III, Idi Amin, Vlad the Impaler, King Lear, Jim Ignatowski, Captain Ahab, King Ludwig of Bavaria, Jimmy Piersall, and any two members of QAnon. I’ll take the pigeon-pants guy and my grandmother and out-weird you every time.2
This man stuffed pigeons down his pants. Live pigeons. Where do you get ideas like that?
Those of you willing to admit reading me more than once may recall that in 2003, I wrote about a monkey smuggler (not a typo) who used a similar m.o. The Times of London gave me its “Judicial Wisdom Award” for writing in this magazine that “there is no non-culpable explanation for monkeys in your underpants.” It was obviously not a banner year for judicial wisdom.3
So I’m aware there are such ideas floating around in the atmosphere with all the other pathogens, but pigeons? Really, pigeons?
I mean, I have trouble enough with the idea of stealing pigeons. If I started tomorrow writing a list of things I might steal and worked on it through Thanksgiving, I would not get to pigeons.4 I would get to used gum, bat guano, Edsels, and 8-track tapes of Slim Whitman but I would not get to pigeons.
So in my book, pigeon thieves merit an automatic Penal Code section 1368 mental competency exam. I can’t believe any of them are triable.
But Thomas Waddell of Baltimore, Maryland, not only stole them, he turned them into underwear. And then, in a pièce de résistance that rather clearly illustrates the difference between momentary inspiration and true genius, he attempted to redefine the word “nonchalance” by walking down the street with them.
Try to picture this. Thomas Waddell, human aviary, was apprehended5 by the Baltimore police as he ambled down the highway trying to control the purloined pigeon flock in his cartoonishly bulging slacks. One officer said he looked “like the Michelin tire ad.”
Except that the Michelin Man’s bulges don’t move. Nor do they wriggle, flap, peck, squawk, and . . . well, let’s face it, folks, what’s the one thing you can count on a frightened pigeon doing? This has to be the most disgusting crime of the decade.
So why is it I feel an almost irresistible urge to applaud? What is it about these facts that transcends criminality and rises to the level of performance art? Why is it I feel the picture of this feather-spewing, bulging, spewing Rose Parade float of a man belongs in a Simpson episode or a Soho gallery rather than on the wall of a post office?6
I think it’s because we all have a weakness for weird. I think that’s why there was room in our hears for Mork from Ork and Cosmo Kramer and Forrest Gump. That’s why there’s an April Fools’ Day. That’s why this column’s been running for forty years.7
What’s more, I think this affinity for lunacy is universal. Literally universal. Think about it. When the little green guys from Alpha Centauri visit earth, who do they talk to? Do they go to the Rand Corporation or the Brookings Institute or the Hague?
Of course not. They don’t want to talk to those people. They find a family of rutabaga farmers in North Nowhere, Nebraska, who haven’t talked to anyone who isn’t kin since 1981. Those are the people they beam up into their space craft and study.
You know why? Because those folks are more fun.
And the more I read about people like Michelin Q. Pigeon, the more convinced I am that earth’s role in the cosmos is that of some kind of extraterrestrial amusement park. That’s why we’ve got so many fruitcakes. The pigeon thief isn’t a criminal, he’s an attraction.
The Baltimore police clearly didn’t understand that. They arrested Mr. Waddell on charges of grand theft and cruelty to animals. They locked him up in a jail.
And somewhere out beyond the ionosphere a sign went up: “We regret that the Flying Dumbo Ride and The Man Who Stuffs Live Pigeons in his Pants are temporarily closed for refurbishment. We hope you’ll enjoy the other 330,999,999 attractions in America Land.”
God, I love this country.
(1) Actually, twenty-one live pigeons and five who had succumbed. They were the lucky ones. Imagine what life will be like for
the twenty-one survivors of this ordeal.
I foresee a lot of intensive therapy.
(2) Grandma periodically saw Great-Uncle Eugene’s cello passing her window. Not Uncle Eugene, just his cello.
(3) The Supreme Court, for example, decided to look the other way on gerrymandering in Vieth v. Jubelirer in 2003. I looked pretty good next to that.
(4) Although I would make life easier for the appellate bar.
(5) The word “apprehended” hardly fits this fact situation, but then what word does?
(6) Does the post office still post pictures of wanted criminals? If so, I’ve been letting everyone down by not looking.
(7) That, and one of the most incredible cases of editorial inertia in the history of
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.